FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Having played 14 of its first 15 matches of the 2012 season away from Flagstaff, the NAU volleyball team (12-3, 4-2 BSC) plays the first of nine home dates in its final 14 matches of the regular season at 7 p.m. Thursday vs. Montana State (10-4, 4-2 BSC). Thursday's match will be the first of six televised home matches and will air live on Fox Sports Arizona, Fox College Sports Pacific, and NAU-TV.
"I think that we're right on course," NAU head coach Craig Choate said after his team won two of three road matches last week. "People shouldn't think of us as a juggernaut; we're the little train that could. We're right on where were supposed to be."
The Lumberjacks not only survived their challenging start to the season, but thrived, totaling a 12-3 overall record and 4-2 mark in conference play. NAU played its first home match of the year on the latest date in program history, scoring a 3-1 win over Sacramento State in front of 502 home fans on Sept. 20 before returning to the road with three road matches in five days in three different states last week. The Lumberjacks spent the first four weeks of the season away from Flagstaff, competing in five different states and two time zones, and following their matches last week have now played in eight different states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) through their first 15 matches of the season.
In winning 11 matches this year away from Flagstaff (five road wins, six neutral site wins), NAU has already combined for the most road and neutral site wins in a season since the 1991 team won 16 matches outside of Flagstaff and advanced to the NIVC national championship. The team has also already recorded as many Big Sky road wins (three) as they have totaled in any season since winning four conference road matches in 2001. The Lumberjacks have clinched an overall winning record in matches away from Flagstaff and will have an opportunity to post the first winning road record since the 2000 team went 5-4 on the road and was the Big Sky Co-Champion.
Senior libero Anna Gott broke the NAU career digs record midway through the third set of NAU's match at Portland State last Thursday, surpassing the previous record of 1,549 digs set by Chelsea Robb in 2002. Gott ended with 21 digs vs Portland State and averaged 7.00 digs per set in NAU's three matches last week to bump her career total to 1,582 digs, which is the 10th best career digs total in Big Sky history. She ranks second in the Big Sky with 5.04 digs per set for the season with 5.73 digs per set in conference play.
Assuming the role of NAU's primary setter after senior Kelli Dallmann served in that capacity in 2011, sophomore Kalee Kirby is tied for second in the Big Sky and is 40th in NCAA Division-I in averaging 11.00 assists per set. Kirby has totaled 30 or more assists in all but one match this season with nine 40-assist matches and two 50-assist matches with a career high 51 assists at Colorado. Kirby also leads the team with seven double-doubles this year and ranks fourth in the Big Sky in that category, having added 2.53 digs per set. Despite standing at just 5-7 Kirby also has recorded 25 blocks and has 23 kills from the setter position.
Picked to finish last in the Big Sky in the preseason coaches' poll, Montana State comes to Flagstaff with a 10-4 overall record and has matched NAU with a 4-2 mark thus far in conference play. The Bobcats won each of their three preseason tournaments and earned a win at North Dakota before taking three of four matches at home over the last two weeks. Three of their four conference wins have come in five sets, however, though the Bobcats completed a 3-0 home sweep of Weber State in their last match. MSU has dropped Big Sky matches to league-leading Portland State and Northern Colorado.
Montana State ranks in the middle of the Big Sky in every statistical category, with their best team rank in hitting percentage in fourth place (.222). Individually, junior Sarah Horton is third in the Big Sky with 3.78 kills and 4.17 points per set and junior Nicole Baker is fourth with 0.36 service aces per set. The team has totaled higher hitting percentage, kills, assists and blocks totals than its opponents and has gone 5-1 in five set matches this year. NAU is 30-22 all-time vs MSU and has won 10 consecutive matches, having last lost to the Bobcats in Flagstaff in 2006.
Mitch Strohman, Sharon Falor, and Heather Hodgeson will provide the television call of the match to air live in high definition throughout the state of Arizona on basic cable and satellite, locally in Flagstaff on Suddenlink Cable channels 4 and 104 in HD, and nationally on Fox College Sports. The broadcast will also stream live online on BigSkyTV.org and NAU-TV.com.